The Extrovert’s Guide to Working from Home
First thing’s first: I’m an extrovert. I get energy from being around people; most of my best ideas come from unplanned conversations or eavesdropping (shoutout to open office plans) on others pains or needs. I like having the voices of co-workers, partners, and customers in my head from in-person encounters. Then, in 2018 I was approached by xMatters about a position – a remote position. Working from home.
While I was already familiar with xMatters and loved the product and culture, my biggest concern was how I would handle going from being in the office to working from home. I worried that I’d feel lonely or disconnected (spoiler alert: I did) and that my passionate, quirky personality that previous companies had loved wouldn’t translate to remote work.
Cheer up, extroverts. There are ways to survive and thrive in a work from home scenario.
Though the opportunity was too good to pass up, I started with xMatters while undergoing a personal self-experiment: How would I do working remotely? If you find yourself working from home due to whatever pandemic, global warming event, or economic crisis has crossed your path, cheer up, extroverts. There are ways to survive and thrive in a work from home scenario. While I’m not perfect at it, here’s what works for me…
Create a workspace
This seems like a no-brainer. Countless studies purport that it’s critical to have a designated space for work so your psyche associates this place with getting down to business – not sleep (if a bedroom) or entertainment (if a living room).
So for the first few months I worked at xMatters I set up shop in our under-the-stairs closet space with room for a small desk and the promise of a closed door – absolute focus. However, after three months I willingly gave up this space because a) I work best with natural light (of which the closet/office had none) and b) My daughter needed her own “office” (a.k.a. playroom) and appreciated the closet more than I did as my office.
I still wanted to feel like I had an “office” or designated work setup, so I’ve since set up a space on my kitchen counter (a sort of standing desk) and designated our dining table as my seated (or web conference call) workspace.
Dress for work
Getting dressed for work is not just beneficial for your co-workers who have to see you over web conferences, but also for getting you in the mindset of “going” to work. For me, throwing a blazer on over a regular shirt or wearing dress shoes instead of sneakers (even though your co-workers won’t see these) gets me in a productive mood. Plus, who wants to see all those formerly used work outfits (remember when you got dressed for the office?) just languish in the back of the closet?
Just like an athlete putting on a uniform or an actor in a costume, your outfit trains your brain to “get into character” for the role you’re going to play. And it lets the people viewing you over webcam see you’re making an effort – and not wonder what you’re doing in between meetings when you pop up on camera with Cheetoh dust all over your pajama top.
Share your webcam
Because your co-workers don’t get the benefit of seeing you in person day-to-day at the office, sharing your webcam and letting them put a face to your voice is critical. The ability to show your facial expressions as you speak helps others read cues they otherwise wouldn’t notice, allows them to better interpret your tone, and conveys passion when you talk. Humans look at others’ faces when they speak for a reason.
Plus, in larger group meetings it can be difficult to unmute yourself in time to interject a point, so sending a non-verbal cue (like a raised hand) helps your co-workers to include you.
Yes, there can be bloopers. For me, working from home with four cats plus my 4-year old daughter means that you will find yourself presenting in a big meeting only to have your kid pop into frame while holding a cat by its neck. But that comical moment (no cats were harmed) gave my colleagues a laugh and is something we still talk about on Slack. You may not get to have funny in-office moments with your team, so being able to share a “Remember when this happened at work” story together makes you feel closer.
I never realized how averse to quiet I was until I started working remotely. You know those memes about having dozens of browser tabs open in your brain? That’s me.
I definitely longed for the soothing background noise of an office and its overlapping conversations across cubicles when I started my remote role – and I spent my first few months with “The Office” in the background anytime I was working on things. Being comfortable with silence is a notable struggle for folks who have grown up in the digital age – always with a perfectly curated playlist or a similar go-to show as background noise.
Working from home with four cats plus my 4-year old daughter means presenting in a big webcam meeting only to have your kid pop into frame while holding a cat by its neck.
For the last year I’ve leaned into the idea of silence – or, at least, intentional and purposeful “distraction.” I’ve since embraced a meditation routine to hone the ability to listen to myself and prepare for the day. I’ve also been more intentional about what I choose to listen to – either in the background or as a break in my day – by diving headlong into the podcast and audiobook trend (hit me up on LinkedIn for recommendations!). I have also gotten better about not always spending breaks staring at my phone.
Do fun stuff together
I miss bonding with my team every day. I don’t get to join the random Happy Hour or share birthday cake in the kitchen. When I first started at xMatters, I was close with my immediate team (as I’d worked with them in a previous job), but I kept seeing conversations over Slack that made me feel out of the loop. We have dozens of remote employees across the country, so I figured that there were others who felt the same way. I was right, and we did something about it.
xMatters has a Culture Club that comes up with fun activities and charitable opportunities for all of our global offices to rally their respective locations and bring teams closer together. Guess who was missing out on all the fun!
So we worked with our VP of HR (who heads up the Culture Club initiative) to create a remote arm of the club and help all of us folks working from home feel more connected. It does mean thinking outside of the box on things we can do “together,” since we’re not in the same place – but picking an activity we all do in our respective cities (and share photos to our dedicated remote xPerts Slack channel, of course) helps to bridge the distance. One of my favorite things we do is send cardboard cutouts of our co-workers from city to city where our remote employees take turns taking pictures of all the adventures they’re having with our Flat xPerts.
Like anything, there’s always room to improve.
In 2020, I’ve resolved to add more physical activity to my work from home routine. I also need to set aside specific, scheduled time during the day to do chores, rather than letting every stray dish or dust bunny prompt a reactive cleaning session.
But despite my imperfections, I’ve truly surprised myself by actually enjoying remote work. It takes some extra effort and discipline for sure, but the flexibility to easily pick my daughter up from school and often have more control over my day is worth it. While I could certainly see going back to an office someday, in the meantime I’m glad to be working from home with a cat in my lap – photobombing my meetings and getting fur all over my blazer.
Whether a job change has you making the change to remote life, or you find yourself working from home to stay safe during a crisis – you can do this. Establish routines, dress the part, and find ways to make connections with co-workers. And try to limit reruns of “The Office” if you’re able.
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